Whither Portlandia?

Attorneys have filed a class-action suit on behalf of what they say are hundreds of people exposed to tear gas last summer while being held in the Multnomah County Detention Center. Federal and local law enforcement regularly unleashed the chemicals to combat the nightly demonstrations in the streets near the county jail. The suit claims that the building’s ventilation system sucked tear gas into the cells and staff did nothing to ameliorate the bad air.

Portland’s downtown changed, head-snapping quickly.

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Being Like Venezuela

Conservative pundits and G.O.P. politicians are quick to point to Venezuela and its erstwhile President Hugo Chavez as the definitive example of the failure of socialism. The country has suffered years of rampant inflation and social unrest.

Under Chavez’s embattled successor, Nicolás Maduro, crime, inflation and poverty have increased. Maduro’s 2018 reelection is considered to be fraudulent. Several countries, including the United States, have refused to recognize his presidency. Russia and China support the Maduro government.
In 2017 Maduro set up the Fuerza de Acción Especial de la Policía Nacional Bolivariana (Special Actions Force), FAES. The federal paramilitary police force’s ostensible purpose was to “combat crime and terrorism,” and wrest control of poor neighborhoods from gang infestation.

Caracas, Venezuela

The names of top commanders of Mr. Maduro’s special police force, and who exactly has been invited into its ranks are unknown. FAES units patrol Venezuela neighborhoods dressed in black, with balaclavas covering their faces, concealing identities. The forces are accused of breaking into homes without warrants, taking people into custody without charges and allegedly have killed dozens of people.

Here in Portland, street demonstrations, initially to protest police brutality of Black persons, have occurred every night for two months. Some opportunists, predominately young white males, have used the protests as background for looting, property damage and graffiti.

The current occupant of the White House grasping at anything to gain support for a failed presidency in the upcoming election, is following Maduro’s strategy. Federal “police” dressed in camouflage, with no identifiers other than “POLICE” have detained people and taken them away in unmarked vehicles, fired tear gas and shot peaceful demonstrators with “less-than-lethal” weaponry. Their purported purpose is to protect the federal buildings in downtown Portland. The secret police, untrained in crowd control, come from the Department of Homeland Security border patrol.

Portland, Oregon (Doug Brown via AP)

The COWH is doubling down on deploying secret police. “We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” he said. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job.” And there will be more to come. “We’re not going to let New York, and Chicago, and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore — and Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.”

Is Vancouver Wash Sending Its Best Across the Border?

Three decades ago – maybe four – in the waning days of music on AM radio, the era of morning drive-time disc-jockey teams supposedly being light-hearted and humorous, a pair of funny guys on one Portland station had a running gag, blaming incompetent Washington drivers for any traffic problems. Now in 2019, a study by something called WalletHub ranks Washington motorists number 48, the worst in the continental United States. Numbers 49 and 50 are Alaska and Hawaii respectively.

Vancouver – not the British Columbia Vancouver – sits just across the Columbia River from Portland – the Oregon Portland.

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The Legacy of Vanport

I learned to drive in a car with a three-speed, column-mounted – “three on the tree” – manual transmission. My father was my instructor. He would drive us out past Jantzen Beach, then still an amusement park, not yet a shopping destination for Vancouver residents to avoid paying Washington sales tax. When we found the abandoned streets of Vanport, we switched places, and I practiced where were still roads, and outlines of where buildings once stood, but nothing else. Vanport was named for its location on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, between Vancouver and Portland. The town was wiped out in the flood of 1948; that’s all I knew.

The first residents of Vanport, soon to be Oregon’s second-largest city, arrived in December 1942. Henry J Kaiser operated three shipyards in the Portland area, each working three shifts per day. Kaiser’s workforce totaled nearly 100,000. The wartime economy, with most able-bodied males in the armed forces, necessitated recruiting around the country for workers. The problem was that Portland had nowhere near enough housing to accommodate the influx.

Using Federal money, Kaiser built housing on a flood plain. In a matter of weeks, more than 9,000 living units went up, mostly prefabricated wooden structures of fourteen apartments. Population quickly exceeded 40,000, more than a third African-American. In 1940, Oregon’s black population was less than 1,800. The community, never incorporated as a city, had shopping centers, a movie theatre, hospital, schools and a college, and twenty-four-hour day care.

As World War II neared its end, ship construction slowed and Vanport was losing its residents. By 1948, population there were 18,500. Weeks of warm rain after a winter’s heavy snowpack and a failing dike on that Memorial Day inundated the town. After days of reassurance from authorities, residents had a half-hour ‘s notice to evacuate. The African-American evacuees concentrated in the Albina district of north Portland, as the city, by custom and ordinance and real-estate redlining, did not allow blacks to live in other areas.

The Vanport site is now Delta Park, Portland International raceway and Heron Lakes Golf Course. The Albina neighborhood has been thoroughly gentrified. Vanport’s African-America descendants are scattered about east Portland, beyond 122nd Avenue. Vanport College is now Portland State University.

Oh, and after twenty-two years away, I have returned to Oregon and have a new Oregon driver’s license, with the same number as I had before.